The Kid Abolitionists Meet IJM

A few months ago we created a video with the Lawson family to help introduce kids to the work of International Justice Mission in Ghana, where they hope to end child slavery in the fishing industry on Lake Volta.

We shared the video with moms and kids who came to our summer justice book clubs and with friends and family who support and encourage our book club fundraiser.

IJM’s work in Ghana is very new – they are just now forming an office in Accra, following an investigation led by “V” earlier this year. “V” (psuedonym for his protection) wrote up a report of his investigation, and IJM shared it with supporters through a mailing and on their website in May or June. This report is what influenced Heidi Kellar and me to focus our book club discussions on IJM’s work to end child slavery on Lake Volta. The report is what gave me the idea to create a children’s video and write a script to help our kids and others understand the issue better, which gave Julianna Lawson the idea of using shadow puppet theater in our video. The report is also what Heidi used to lead an activity at the boys’ book club, in which she had us pretend to be Justice Fighters like V, and role play the arduous (and sometimes boring) tasks of an IJM investigation, including rowing boats around the lake, traveling over bumpy roads to villages, and sitting still and watching for hours at a time. She explained to the boys that the work of justice can be dangerous, uncomfortable, long, and boring.

Well, that was that. It was a great summer – the video worked beautifully as an educational tool for families, and we ended up raising about $1,400 for IJM to help them open their office in Ghana. Summer ended, fall started and we were off to other responsibilities.

Then, God surprised us. Heidi went to a friend’s baby shower, and who would happen to be at that baby shower, but a woman from Washington, DC who works at IJM, in V’s office! She encouraged our kids to write letters to V and his partner to let them know we were praying for them and supported them. Heidi and I got our kids together, showed them the video again, handed them paper, pencils, and a word bank (“Ghana”, “slaves”, “Lake Volta” – yes, we are educators), and they got to work.

We mailed the letters, some photos, and a link to our video to V’s office. The kids got tired of asking when V would write back approximately 48 hours after mailing the envelope.

A little over a week later, I got a message from IJM’s Global PR Director, Mindy Mizell – they had watched our video, shown it to their headquarters office during their daily prayer gathering, and would like to meet the Kid Abolitionists. Could we set up a Skype interview? Uh…YES!

Julianna and I scrambled to set up a time that would work on short notice – IJM wanted the interview complete in time to promote it on Anti-Slavery Day, which was just a few days away, on October 18th. We gathered the kids together (minus the Kellar boys, unfortunately), and fired up Skype. Mindy coached us through a few particulars and started recording. First question, we froze up, started again, and then the three oldest Lawson children answered the questions with poise and intelligence. A couple minutes into the interview, Mindy surprised us with a special visitor on her side. We could see a man, visible from the shoulders down, holding a shuffle of papers. It was V!

He thanked the kids for their letters, the inspiring video, and their efforts to help IJM end slavery in Ghana. He answered a few of the questions from the letters while I sat there grinning like a teenager with a backstage pass to her favorite band.

You can read the article about the kids on IJM’s newsroom website here: “Kids in Portland Meet their Hero on Anti-Slavery Day”.

And a video of our Skype interview with Mindy and V here:

I just can’t even believe this happened. Four years ago, with a breaking heart, I learned about IJM and the gravity and extent of modern day slavery. I called out to God, asking him to show us how to join this work of justice. I never would have imagined how he would answer that prayer and allow our little family and friends to meet these people who inspire us so greatly.

I encourage you to read this updated report by V – his account of witnessing child slavery on Lake Volta: “What Broke My Heart at Lake Volta”.

At the end of our interview, I babbled something to V about him being our hero. Now that I think of it, I’m pretty sure I pictured his face like this:

Jean Valjean

Actually, I didn’t picture his face at all, but I am down-on-my-knees thankful for heroes like V who serve faithfully without any recognition in dangerous assignments for the benefit of the poor and powerless. We don’t know V’s full name and we don’t know the names of the boys on Lake Volta who are waiting for their freedom. But God does. And he chooses to use V and Mindy and others at IJM, and he chose to use us last week to further his purposes in Ghana.

C.S. Lewis said, “I have received no assurance that anything we can do can eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.” (The Weight of Glory)

Whether we tackle the evil in front of us with shadow puppet theater, letters slipped into an envelope, or a donation to an organization that is working quietly away at bringing children out of violence and poverty, we can make a difference. I think that is what I learned this week, and I hope those kids sitting in front of a computer screen learned it too.

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IJM asked us to re-open our summer book club campaign. If you want to support IJM’s work to end slavery at Lake Volta, you may contribute here: 2014 Summer Book Club Justice Campaign.

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Kid Abolitionists

Sometimes a couple of imperfect families can get together and creatively do what they can with what they have to give voice to his work in the world.

One day I was having lunch with Heidi, my friend who helped me start a boys’ book club this summer. She and I  were talking about Jesus, justice, kids, and what movie we might watch next. She asked if I had received the recent mailing from International Justice Mission, the one about the boys in Ghana who are enslaved working on fishing boats at Lake Volta. She spoke of their stories of violence and entrapment. We decided we would tell the book club boys about these boys from Ghana, many the same age they are – four years old and up.

Later that afternoon I got my mail and saw the heartbreaking photos and read the story of the investigation which is leading IJM to open a new office in Ghana, specifically to address child slavery in the Lake Volta fishing industry. I wondered how we could explain this to the book club kids and also how we could share this story more broadly with others who support our book club kids and love justice.

Enter the Lawson family.

Julianna Lawson is a lovely, grace-filled, and creative woman I’ve known since we were small girls. As we have grown up and become mothers, we have discovered an uncanny number of things in common. One thing we do NOT have in common is a love for dressing in costume.

(One time a mutual friend of ours was hosting an event in her home and asked each of us, separately, if we would like to help serve tea to her guests. Dressing in victorian-era costume was optional. I think I responded with an open mouth look of horror. Julianna was delighted to oblige and probably began planning her ensemble immediately.)

Jamie Lawson went to Haiti with John this year, partly to document some of the stories of God’s work in Haiti. He has a video production company.

Julianna’s love of costume and script, plus her husband’s videography work, plus their houseful of kids who also have a creative, sometimes theatrical flare, naturally led my mind to them when I thought of telling the story of Ghana’s boys through a kid-friendly, kid-produced video. Following the Haiti trip we had already been in conversation about bringing our families together, so this seemed like a good match.

The Lawson crew came over on a Saturday and we got to work, getting props ready, setting up equipment, and getting cozy with one another. Two Kellar boys also came over for much-needed boy shadow roles.

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The kids each had a part to play and followed directions with alacrity.

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We all got to experience firsthand the long, boring work of doing justice. Just as the IJM investigators at Lake Volta probably spent long days waiting and watching in the sweltering heat, our kids spent hours together, waiting, speaking lines again and again, quietly sitting between turns, and walking back and forth or posed awkwardly behind a screen, with a bright light heating the upstairs room like an African sun. The Lawsons also had the tedious work of editing hours of audio and video footage ahead of them. Perhaps unlike IJM investigators, our crew enjoyed Hansen’s soda, pizza, and chocolate chip cookies for refreshment when needed.

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The day was fun and fulfilling in the way that working together for a common cause can be. The only disappointment was that poor Jack spent the whole day curled up bed, quite sick. It was difficult for me to bear his absence from the project. He would have been such a cute shadow boy, and I wished he could have experienced the process.

I hope you enjoy the finished video project that our Kid Abolitionists and their justice-loving parents created. It has been a helpful tool for explaining an example of modern day slavery to the moms and kids at our book clubs. We pray that this small offering brings justice a little closer for Ghana’s boys.